Compare the contenders for Iowa governor on environmental issues

The Iowa State Capitol might have a new governor come November. (Scott Schumacher/flickr)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 7, 2018

After Tuesday’s primary election, the race for Iowa governor has been narrowed down to two contenders — incumbent Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, and retired businessman and Democratic nominee Fred Hubbell.

The election is still a few months away, but it’s not too early to compare the two candidates. Here’s a breakdown of their stances on environmental issues.

Gov. Kim Reynolds

Reynolds’ campaign website does not give any indication of her stances on environmental issues. But, she has been the governor of Iowa since May 2017, when former Gov. Terry Branstad vacated the position, allowing then-Lt. Gov. Reynolds to assume the helm.

Looking at the past year of Reynolds’ leadership, she has signed two notable bills relating to the environment.

One, Senate File 2311, signed May 4, changed some laws surrounding utilities, and aimed to extend natural gas into rural areas and increase transparency for utility customers.

The Iowa Environmental Council criticized this bill, stating it “guts energy efficiency programs and allows municipal utilities to discriminate against solar energy customers.”

Second, Reynolds signed Senate File 512 on Jan. 31, a $282 million allocation for improving Iowa’s water quality.

“This law is a significant step in the right direction and should ignite a continuing conversation as we work to make a positive impact on water quality in Iowa,” Reynolds said in a statement after she signed the bill.

The Des Moines Register reported, however, that the funding was merely a “drop in the bucket” compared to the estimated $4 billion needed to make a difference in Iowa’s water quality.

The Iowa Environmental Council also condemned this bill for taking a “business as usual” approach and lacking the scientific basis and financial resources needed for substantial change.

Former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, however, supported the bill. also issued a statement on SF 512, he said the funding will allow the Department of Agriculture to expand investment in locally led water quality projects in targeted watersheds, while also giving farmers and landowners statewide a chance to try practices focused on water quality.

“Passage of this long-term water quality funding bill with bipartisan support is a tremendous next step as we work to continue scaling up the water quality efforts underway statewide,” he said.

Fred Hubbell

The Democratic nominee lists “environment” as one of his priorities on his campaign website. Though Hubbell has no political experience to evaluate his history of environmental policy support, his website touts his long-time advocacy for environmental issues, including supporting renewable energy initiatives while he was chairman of the Iowa Power Fund.

In an interview with Iowa Public Radio, Hubbell criticized Senate File 512 for lacking methods to monitor progress in water quality. He called for more transparent efforts to improve water quality so that Iowans can see progress being made.

“The taxpayers should be able to see whether they’re getting a return with less nutrients, less nitrates in the water, and the farmers are getting better soil, then let’s know that so taxpayers know their money is being well spent,” Hubbell said to IPR.

May 2018 is the warmest on record

NOAA details notable climate events for May 2018 (NOAA)

Eden DeWald | June 6th, 2018

May 2018 is the warmest month of May ever recorded in the United States according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It broke the long held record, which was set back in 1934, during the Dust Bowl. The average temperature recorded in May 2018 was 65.4 degrees, compared to the 64.7 degree average from May 1934.

However, temperatures didn’t just increase on the average, 8,590 daily record breaking highs were set across the United States. Including a notable 100 degree temperature spike for Minneapolis on May 28th, which is the earliest date that a triple digit temperate has been reached for Minneapolis.

Precipitation records for May 2018 also paint a curious picture. The May 2018 average precipitation of 2.97 inches is slightly above the general May average of 2.91 inches. However, more than one-fourth of the United States landmass were under drought conditions. Some areas even experienced record breaking precipitation, such as Florida and Maryland. This data aligns with recent information from NASA, which foresees wet areas getting wetter and dry areas becoming drier due to a combination of human impact, natural water cycles, and climate change.



Iowa’s fading–but fighting–prairies

Prairies are a constantly fading commodity in the Midwest (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | June 5th, 2018

Prairies are a common sight in the Midwest, but no state knows the way of prairie restoration like Iowa. Multiple organizations, many affiliated with Universities, exist solely to help preserve and restore some of Iowa’s former prairieland, as the state used to be absolutely covered with prairies. Currently, less than 0.1% percent of  Iowa’s original prairie is left.

Several local citizens dedicate their time and resources on a daily basis to help restore prairie life. Dr. Daryl Smith at the University of Northern Iowa started the Native Roadside Vegetation Center (now the Tallgrass Prairie Center), one of the largest prairie restoration centers in the country. The center focuses on scientific research, and its staff members find better ways to cultivate prairie plant growth. Further inkand, Cathy Irvine, a “citizen scientist” from Dysart, works with volunteers and students to revive a stretch of 77-acre land outside of her small town into its original prairie state.

Many of these restoration organizations have expressed their dissatisfaction with the education system and the lack of education about the most prominent feature of the Midwestern landscape. This lack of education, coupled with the challenges of a chronic lack of manpower and the high risk of wildfires that prairies often contend with, make restoring and maintaining prairie life a challenge–but it’s one that people like Dr. Smith and Cathy Irvine are more than willing to do.

On the Radio- Kilauea, the world’s most active volcano

The United States Geological Survey captures activity in a lava lake created by Kilauea (USGS/flickr)

Eden DeWald| June 4, 2018

This weeks segment discusses the recent surge in activity from the Kilauea Volcano.


Kilauea is currently the world’s most active volcano.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Kilauea Volcano is located on the big island of Hawaii. It takes up 14% of the land and is said to house the Hawaiian volcano goddess, Pele. The oldest eruptions date back to two-thousand-eight- hundred years go. Kilauea was one of the first volcanoes studied by the Hawaiian Volcano Research Association in 1909.  

On May 3rd, 2018 the volcano erupted again after a five-point-zero earth quake hit the island. Thanks to attentive research and observation the eruption had been suspected and the area was already closed off to the public. The eruption still spewed lava into the residential areas of the Puna district.

The eruption itself did not cause any immediate injury to the locals but hundreds of homes were destroyed. Long lasting effects like smog inhalation and potential mud slides and avalanches will continue to affect the area.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.


Drake University exhibits conservation cartoonist’s works

Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 10.26.34 AM
Pulitzer-Prize-winning Des Moines Register cartoonist Jay N. “Ding” Darling in 1918. (Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 1, 2018

How much do you know about Iowa’s legacy of conservation?

Several leaders in conservation have Iowa roots, including Jay N. “Ding” Darling, the illustrator behind the first duck stamp and a Pulitzer-Prize-winning cartoonist for the Des Moines Register, focusing his cartoons on protecting wildlife and natural resources.

Drake University currently has an exhibit featuring some of Darling’s works at Cowles Library from now until June 30. The exhibit aims to show how his cartoons helped to create policy in the United States surrounding conservation.

Neil Hamilton, director of Drake’s Agricultural Law Center, said in a video that the issues of conservation and preservation Darling was bringing light to 60 years ago are still relevant today.

Learn more about Darling and his exhibit here:

Second 1,000-year rainstorm in two years hits Maryland town

Ellicott City Flood Recovery, Frederick Rd.
Ellicott City undergoes restoration after a 1,000-year rainstorm hit in 2016. The city has just been hit with a second 1,000-year rainstorm less than two years later. (Wikipedia/Preservation Maryland)

Katelyn Weisbrod | May 31, 2018

A Maryland city endured a devastating 1,000-year rainstorm this week, leading to a second flash flood of this severity to hit the town in less than two years.

On July 30, 2016, nearly six inches of rain fell in about an hour and a half in Ellicott City, Maryland, leading to a flood that devastated buildings and killed two people. On May 27, an arguably worse flood ravaged the same area.

An analysis done by The Washington Post attributed the 2018 flood to the area’s funnel-like geography, nearly 10 inches of rain, meteorological forces, and possibly climate change.

However, the analysis pointed out, climate change cannot be a simple explanation for the event that was all too familiar for the people of Ellicott City. This was a single event in a relatively small area, and climate entails long-term trends in often large areas. But increased rainfall is a side effect of climate change, and that may have exacerbated this event.

A 1,000-year rainstorm does not necessarily mean that it only happens once every 1,000 years, but rather the likelihood of it happening in a given year is one in 1,000. For this to happen in Ellicott City twice in two years is incredibly unlikely, but possible.

With climate change and limited historical data, however, it is difficult for experts to accurately determine how frequent these events may be in the future. Iowa has also had its share of devastating floods in recent years — the floods of 1993 and 2008. In some locations, the 1993 flood was considered a 100-year flood, and the 2008 flood was in some places an even more severe 500-year flood, yet they happened within just 15 years of one another.

Rise in toxic algal blooms

A sign warning swimmers not to take a dip in algae infested waters (Amanda S/flickr)

Eden DeWald | May 30th, 2018

With the first day of summer well on its way, so are toxic algal blooms.

Cyanobacteria, also referred to as blue-green algae, are a type of photosynthetic bacteria that produce microcystin toxins. These pose both short term exposure and a long term exposure threats to humans. Skin contact with microcystin can cause digestion issues, a sore throat and even liver damage. Whereas long term contact can create side effects as serious as cancer and liver damage. Microcystins may cause damage via ingestion or skin contact. Cyanobacteria are not only a danger to humans, and can cause large populations of fish to die off and disrupt aquatic ecosystems.

Cyanobacteria blooms have become a growing threat for waterways in the United States. The amount of blooms has grown substantially even in the past few years according to the Environmental Working Group, which saw a rise from three self reported algal blooms in 2010, to 169 reported blooms in 2017. 

The Environmental Protection Agency sites commonly used fertilizers nitrogen and phosphorus as causes for these algal blooms. When excess fertilizer runs off and finds its way into a waterway, it can create a dangerous potential home for cyanobacteria which utilizes these elements within its chemical processes.

Potential prevention methods for toxic algal blooms can include approaches such as planting vegetation buffer strips near waterways, and changing the way that fertilizers are applied to crops to prevent excess from being utilized.